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Pole to Pole

Day 44: Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey 
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Istanbul: markets.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleBy the end of this hot, hard day the ministrations of a proper Turkish bath, a hammam, are irresistible.

The Cagaloglu Hammam, a splendid emporium of cleanliness, is this year celebrating 300 years in business, during which time it has cleaned, amongst others, King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm, Florence Nightingale and Tony Curtis. I can choose from a 'self-service bath' (the cheapest option), a 'scrubbed assisted bath', a 'massage ˆ la Turk - you'll feel years younger after this vigorous revitalizing treatment' or the 'Sultan service', which promises, modestly, that 'you will feel reborn'. At 120,000 Turkish lira, about £17, rebirth seems a snip, and after signing up I'm given a red-and-white check towel and shown to a small changing cubicle. Through the glass I can see a group of masseurs with long droopy moustaches, hairy chests, bulbous stomachs and an occasional tattoo. At that moment a Turkish father and son emerge from a cubicle and the little boy, who looks to be only eight or nine, is ushered towards the steam-room by one of these desperadoes with a reassuring gentleness and good humour.

The steam-room, the hararet, is set to one side of an enormous central chamber with walls and floor of silver-grey marble, and a dome supported by elegant columns and arches. While I work up a good dripping sweat from the underfloor heating I get talking to a fellow bather, an Italian. He has driven to Istanbul from Bologna, and had come quite unscathed through Yugoslavia, where there is a state of civil war, but had found newly-liberated Romania a dark and dangerous place. Gasoline was almost unobtainable. He bought a can which he found later to be water. I asked him if there was any more news from the USSR. He said he had heard that Leningrad had been sealed off and tanks had moved into the Kremlin.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 99

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